Discussion | Rating Favourite Authors’ Books

Howdy folks! Today I bring you the lesser spotted discussion post in which I muse on something that’s caught my attention lately. For today’s post, I was inspired by my recent read of Vicious by V.E. Schwab, a book which I enjoyed but struggled to settle on a rating for. I thought I’d unpack why and, when it came down to it, the ‘why’ was essentially because V is a fave of mine.

It may surprise Schwab fans to learn that I, an also proclaimed Schwab fan, took three attempts to actually successfully read Vicious. That’s right, three attempts – I had previously DNFed (or, the more charitable/optimistic/misguided PAFNed ‘put aside for now-ed’) this book twice before now. Why? To be honest, Vicious wasn’t really my thing. And, despite everything, it kind of… still isn’t. This seems to be an unpopular opinion around the bookish community online, especially amongst fans of Schwab’s other work. I wouldn’t dream of taking anything away from anyone who does like Vicious most, because it is just personal preference and, for me, I prefer Schwab’s more portal fantasy-esque novels as that’s the line my taste generally runs along anyway.

But the fact remains that, actually, I didn’t love that book, I just enjoyed it, and really appreciated the skill I could see already in Schwab’s earlier work. But I just felt that she has written better (in fact, I suspect that Vengeful will be what I hoped Vicious was) and I’d read better examples of her work. Then came the moment when I realised this and felt like I was somehow betraying an author who I basically considered one of my favourite authors writing nowadays. Which brings me onto the point of this discussion post: I think I automatically look on books more fondly immediately purely because they’ve been written by a favourite author. That might sound obvious to some but I realised recently that this actually affected my baseline average rating for books.

As a rule, when I rate a book I start with 3 out of 5 stars, 3 to me says ‘it was average’, there was nothing special about the book but nothing particularly wrong with it either – it was just ‘ok’. If a book has a problematic element in it, I’ll probably deduct a star or two. If it was poorly written, I’ll probably deduct a star or two. If it didn’t have a logical plot-line or the character motivations seemed skewed, I’ll probably deduct a star or two. Likewise, the flip-side is true. If a book touches on important issues in a constructive and thought-provoking way, I’ll add a star or two. If a book is well-written or the writing style draws me in, I’ll add a star or two. If the plot sweeps me away on a journey and keeps me turning those pages, I’ll add a star or two.

So it’s easy to see how books by my favourite authors can end up getting inflated ratings even if I didn’t necessarily enjoy the theme of the stories within them as much as I have other stories. My baseline for rating a book by a favourite author, a ‘just ok’ book by them, is automatically a star (or more) higher than it would be for just any other random authors’ book. I just can’t be unbiased. I think this was the case with Vicious and it’s likely the case with some of my other favourite authors such as J.K. Rowling, Leigh Bardugo, and Neil Gaiman. If I’d rated Vicious purely based on enjoyment overall and I hadn’t settled it firmly in my head as a Favourite Authors’ Book, it probably wouldn’t have got a 4-star rating – and, ultimately, the review probably wouldn’t feel quite so tricky to write either!

Do you experience this too? Or maybe you’re able to divorce the artist from the work more than me and rate everything as an entity without that bias? I’m really curious about this topic so, if you have an opinion, please share it below in the comments and let’s chat about this.


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Discussion | When Childhood Favourites Are Republished

This post comes to you from nostalgia, which I’ve just been hit full in the face with, due to seeing the Matilda at 30 marketing. For those unaware, to coincide with the thirtieth anniversary of the book, Puffin have teamed up with illustrator Quentin Blake to produce special editions of Roald Dahl’s Matilda with brand new covers, each reimagining the eponymous protagonist as a 30-year old women and defining her by her career.

When I initially saw the marketing, I was (oddly) a little horrified… and confused, and mainly horrified because of this confusion. You see, I misread the publicity and thought that Quentin Blake had written some kind of new story of “Matilda at 30”, imagining her in turn as Chief Exec of the British Library, a World Traveller, or an Astrophysicist. I thought these were original/new stories featuring a beloved character. When I thought Quentin Blake had written 3 different stories about Matilda’s career at 30 I was confused why the illustrator was suddenly turned author but I thought, ok, maybe they’ve dug up notes from Roald Dahl or they’ve ran with a really great idea, and I guess it wouldn’t be so bad to get an idea what her life might have turned out like, even if I would mostly prefer to think of a beloved childhood character locked in time, at that childhood age, and not a year older. I might have aged, but she doesn’t, she remains a child forever. (I have the same feeling when I see the likes of Nicholas Hoult or Macauley Culkin as grown adults – no, how dare you age, you should stay the ages of your About a Boy and Home Alone characters!)

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Discussion | The Struggle of Reviewing Favourite Books

Well, well, well, what have we here, a post we haven’t had in a while – that’s right, let’s discuss some things. Specifically, let’s discuss the struggle that is reviewing favourite books. Maybe not everyone has this struggle but, in an Internet full of book bloggers, I highly doubt that I am the only one who genuinely finds this such a difficult thing.

Here’s the thing: if I LOVE a book, I have no problem telling everyone I love the book. I’ll post updates about it on Goodreads and Twitter as I read. I’ll rave about it how good it was on Twitter using gifs whilst recommending it to friends and family offline too. I’ll mention it very enthusiastically numerous times on my blog in response to tag posts. I’ll wholeheartedly rate it 5 out of 5 stars and include it in ‘best books of the year’ lists. But, I sometimes struggle to write a review for it.

Case-in-point: one of my favourite books in recent years has been The Secret History by Donna Tartt. It’s not exactly an obscure book and quite a few people very much enjoy the book in the online book community. But I struggle deeply to articulate WHY I love this book so much, I just know that I do. It’s the same with Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo – in fact, I still haven’t been able to write a coherent review after recently re-reading it for the very purpose of writing a review. I can flail about it until the cows come home but, apparently, I struggle to just articulate why I love it in an actual review post. It’s still in the works, months/years late by this point.

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V.E. Schwab’s J.R.R. Tolkien Lecture at Pembroke College

Last week, I was fortunate enough to have friends who would indulge my blatant fangirling over one of my favourite authors enough to plan an entire trip to Oxford to indulge this whim. What am I talking about, you ask? Why, V.E. Schwab’s Tolkien Lecture given at Pembroke College, Oxford. Of course. An annual lecture, Pembroke College’s J.R.R. Tolkien Lecture series is organised by students of the college and based on the topic of speculative fiction (often, fantasy and sci-fi), it invites an influential person within the field to speak on the topic. Previous speakers have included Lev Grossman and Susan Cooper and, this year, it added V.E. Schwab to its growing ranks.

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Discussion/Brain Dump | Avengers: Infinity War

In case you hadn’t guessed from the title this is a “discussion” of Avengers Infinity War. I hesitate to use the word discussion because it’s going to be more of an (probably) incoherent jumble of thoughts/gushing about the film as I try to process what the hell I actually watched. It is SPOILERS GALORE so, seriously, if you haven’t seen Avengers Infinity War yet or, in fact, if you haven’t seen any of the previous Marvel Cinematic Universe films and you intend to, then please (for the love of God) DO NOT read any further, you will be spoiled.

There, I think that’s plenty enough of a spoiler warning to placate Thanos’ demand for “silence”.

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And, as a disclaimer that I hate feeling obliged to make but will make nonetheless, I have seen all the MCU films to date. This does not make me an authority, and I’m not claiming to be. I don’t remember the infinite details of all of them (frankly, I loathe some of the films so I haven’t been keen to rewatch them too many times). But I am a HUGE fan of the journey the MCU has been on in the last ten years and I’ve been there for a large portion of that time (2011-2018 still feels like a decent innings, right?) so I’m just speaking as a fan. I haven’t read any of the comic book iterations and I don’t constantly theorise about what elements of them the MCU will incorporate into their films. I just watch the films, enjoy them, and occasionally fall down Wikipedia holes. That’s the extent of my wider reading about them. So this is just one fan’s gushing and theorising (oh boy, is there theorising), probably unsubstantiated, but I’m putting it on record all the same. IS this for you? Probably not. It’s more for me to be able to look back in however many months’ time and check how right or, let’s be realistic, how WRONG I was about this entire film.

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Discussion | Choosing Top Books

Hi folks, today I bring you yet another discussion post of sorts, since I seem to be in a chatty mood and (not gonna lie) also because I’ve just came home from an exhausting weekend in London and I’m a little delirious tired. Today I thought I would ponder the idea of picking your top books of the year. As the year draws to a close so many of us readers like to reflect on everything we’ve read and pick out the really stand-out novels we enjoyed in the year. At this time of year, weekly memes such as Top Ten Tuesday and Top Five Wednesday also prompt the book bloggers amongst us to narrow down those top books even further to pick our favourite ten, or five, things we’ve read in the entire year.

I always struggle with this exercise. Mainly because what might have been a top 5-star read in March might have been displaced from its ‘favourite’ spot by other things I read in the remainder of the year. Like the Six Chair Challenge in X Factor except a lot more bookish. Two books can both be 5-star reads purely based on statistics but one could easily make the cut whilst the other one definitely doesn’t. Maybe a book was a favourite in January but it was only when reflecting on the year’s books read that I even remembered I’d read it, thereby indicating it was a ‘time and place’ book that probably didn’t stand the test of time. (I may very well have a few examples of this from this year when I put together my best books of 2017 list.)

Likewise, I might give a book 5 stars for pure enjoyment value, even though I know it’s not exactly a literary or critical masterpiece by any means. I once rated Stephanie Perkins’ Anna and the French Kiss 5 stars, in the very same year that I likewise highly rated Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, and William Shakespeare’s Coriolanus. Some parties would consider some of these titles more worthy of earning 5 stars than others. But what it comes down to with how I rate things is how much I enjoyed them and how much skill was deployed in telling the story. Or, at least, that’s how I try to rate things, sometimes a book just grabs me and I hate myself for it but I can’t help surrendering and giving it lots of stars for how much it made me smile like an idiot. (See: Anna and the French Kiss, again. I’m not proud.)

All of this makes picking a definitive list of best books of the year really difficult. Despite this, though, I really enjoy the actual exercise of looking back over the entirety of my reading year and trying to whittle those many books down to just ten that I think were the best things I read in the entire year, for critical reasons or just for the sheer bloody enjoyment I got out of them. In the end, that is what makes a book ‘the best’ for me, and it will certainly be the tactic I use at the end of December when I have to devise my own best of the year list. Until then…

Thats all folks! Do you make top books of the year lists? Do you find the task easy or hard to pick and choose a limited number? Do you base it more on what books you have glowing reviews to, or the ones that left the biggest impressions even months later? This year has been a good reading year so undoubtedly it will be a tough decision for me – I can’t wait to draw up my list! If you have any opinions on the subject, please do comment below because I’d love to hear your thoughts on choosing top books!


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Discussion | Studying vs. Reading Books

Today, we begin with unpacking the very title of this discussion post: I realise that it’s never a simple dichotomy of ‘studying’ a book and ‘reading’ a book simply “for the sake of it”. However, I chose the title for this blog post because I wish to unpack some thoughts I’m having regarding enjoying a book for entertainment’s sake vs. enjoying a book for studying’s sake. There are plenty of books which I didn’t necessarily enjoy on its own merit, as a singular story, but came to enjoy after further study of secondary material or after a lively seminar discussion with people at university. I would probably count Frankenstein, The Moonstone, Dracula, Wuthering Heights, and A Tale of Two Cities among that number.

This topic has come to mind particularly today because I just DNFed Jane Eyre. I have never studied this book (somehow) in all my many years of studying English literature. I picked it up on a whim sometime when I was at secondary school and read it but didn’t love it as I thought I probably should have. I just didn’t get along with Charlotte Bronte’s writing style or pacing even though I enjoyed the concept and overall plot. I decided recently that perhaps I ought to give it a re-read because I am now older and (hopefully) wiser, and with #Victober happening this month, it felt like fate to re-read it now. Reader, I DNFed it.

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Discussion | Finding Your Blogging Voice

Hi all, I bring you a semi-rare post today in the form of a discussion post. This time, I’d like to discuss the struggle of finding your own personal voice and blogging tone, as it has been something that’s been on my mind a lot over the last few months and it definitely affects how much I blog since it’s constantly playing on my mind.

First, let me explain what I mean. I follow some amazing bloggers who have such fun and engaging blogs. And, in an internet full of blogs (especially those about books), what distinguishes one book blog from another? Largely, it’s the tone, it’s the blogger’s personality coming across through the “voice” of their blog. My favourite blogs are the ones full of this voice, the ones where the blogger’s complete personality seems to really shine and engage their readers. I’m not necessarily talking about big personalities; there are more understated blogs and bloggers that just sound so distinct, so very much them, that it’s hard to resist automatically reading their latest post when it pops up in my Reader.

This is what I aspire to. Or not even that, but to have a more distinct voice. Because I feel a disconnect between my different writing styles and I’m not sure if my (attempted) amalgamation of them in this blog quite works to form one ‘voice’. You see, I am well used to adjusting my tone depending on the audience.

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Discussion | Seasonally (In)appropriate Reading

Hi one and all, welcome to another discussion post aka ‘Emma babbles to try to work out her own opinion on the subject at hand and then asks what you think when she can’t make her mind up’.

This subject at hand is something that I am finding unavoidable at this time of year due to the changing of the seasons from Summer to Autumn, or Fall for any of you US folk. With Autumn comes the excuses to dig out that knitwear and those scarves and go crunching through golden leaves. It also brings out all the love for pumpkin spice latte (I have been known to indulge in the past)… which is to say, there’s something of an Autumn ~aesthetic~ on the Internet, and that has even extended into the book community. Much like Summer seemingly heralds the resurgence of fun, contemporary reads on many a reader’s TBR, and Winter sees readers snuggling down with something more slow-paced or a chunky, long fantasy tome, Autumn marks that transitional period which is reflected in a lot of bookworms’ reading choices.

Autumn also brings October which brings Halloween and, for many, they try to sneak in a spooky read or two, in the spirit of All Hallows Eve. As someone who doesn’t much go in for Halloween parties, nor horror as a genre, this has never really affected my TBR choices all that much, though it is fun to watch recommendation videos from Booktubers for fun scary reads. (One year maybe I’ll be brave enough to dip my toes into the murky waters of horror, but 2017 is probably not that year!)

This has led me to a realisation… I don’t really read seasonally.

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Discussion | Marking Up Your Books

Today’s discussion post was brought to you by this tweet which I saw whilst scrolling aimlessly through Twitter. Yes, this is a discussion all about marking your books, specifically by dog-earring the pages. Please do not shrink away in fear or brandish the sign of the cross at me, I assure you I am not evil. The vehemence with which some people on Twitter were categorising readers who does this as HEATHENS really got my back up… until I remembered, I used to be one of those people. However, nowadays, oh boy… *deep breath* my name is Emma and I dog ear the pages of my books. No, please don’t back away, please I’m not a terrible person, I swear!

Don’t get me wrong, I used to be just like those people on that tweet who are jokingly (or not so jokingly) calling people who mark their books as EVIL. I used to think that anyone who would dare to despoil a book in such a cruel and callous way deserved the fieriest of deaths. Alongside those who purposely crack the spine of paperbacks and take some joy in the sound of the binding crying out in pain. And those people at the back? Those readers who not only annotate in the margins in pencil but in pen too – evuuuuul!

Yes, I am being dramatic. And I am being dramatic in order to present my change in thinking.

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